The X-Files division of the FBI may not be real, but some of the cases on the hit TV show The X-Files were actually inspired by real-life events. The truth is out there – and here are five times it was stranger, and more chilling, than fiction.
1. The Erlenmeyer Flask (S1, Ep24)
A man with green blood and poisonous gas emitting from his body – sounds unlikely that this one was based on real events, right? Believe it or not, this S1 episode was inspired by a real woman nicknamed “the toxic lady”.
In February 1994, Gloria Ramirez, suffering from confusion, high heart rate, and quickened breathing, was brought into a Riverside, California emergency room. The hospital staff worked fast, injecting her with medications and attempting to defibrillate her heart. Suddenly, they noticed an oily sheen covering her body and a garlic-like, fruity aroma coming from her mouth.
When they attempted to draw blood, there was an ammonia-like smell coming from the tube, and particles floating in the blood. Shortly after these bizarre observations, the hospital staff started dropping like flies – 23 people became ill, with some passing out, and five requiring hospitalisation. Ramirez, meanwhile, was pronounced dead within 35 minutes of arriving in the emergency room.
So what, exactly, was wrong with Ramirez and with the hospital staff? That’s a mystery that remains unsolved. One theory, however, holds that Ramirez, who was suffering from cervical cancer, had been using dimethyl sulfoxide (a solvent used as a degreaser) as a homemade pain remedy. When medical staff administered oxygen, it crystallised, leading to the appearance of crystals in Ramirez’s blood. Electric shocks during defibrillation could have converted it into a poisonous gas, possibly explaining the other symptoms the medical staff experienced.
2. Irresistible (S2, Ep13)
This episode features a seemingly normal man, from a normal family, who’s secretly a twisted killer. Sound familiar? The character of Donnie Pfaster, a Minneapolis death fetishist and mortuary worker who collects hair and fingernails from corpses, is said to be based on serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer.
Not only did many of Dahmer’s murders involve the desecration of his victims’ corpses (including necrophilia and cannibalism), some of his surviving victims thought they saw his features changing right in front of them.
In the X-Files episode Irresistible, Pfaster shape-shifts in front of Agent Dana Scully, and often appears in the shadows, his features undefined. Pfaster was even originally written as a necrophiliac just like Dahmer, but writers had to ditch that element for network TV.
3. Nisei and 731 (S3, Ep9 & 10)
In this two-part episode, Agents Fox Mulder and Scully investigate an alien autopsy conducted by a group of Japanese scientists. They’re led to a larger conspiracy involving alien-human hybrids, as well as the discovery that the Japanese scientists behind the autopsy were members of Unit 731 during World War II.
This is one case where an episode of The X-Files is actually less disturbing than the real-life events that inspired it. The biological and chemical warfare research unit within the Imperial Japanese Army was responsible for horrifying experiments on up to 250,000 men, women, and children during World War II, including surgeries without anaesthesia, injections with diseases, frostbite testing, weapon testing, and other atrocities.
4. Home (S4, Ep2)
Considered one of the series’ scariest and most controversial episodes ever, Home is the story of the Peacocks, an inbred family of three brothers accused of a horrifying crime: Killing a baby. The episode only gets darker from there.
So where’d the writers come up with this stuff? One source of inspiration was Charlie Chaplin’s autobiography; he told a story of horrors he’d witnessed in a tenement home while touring with a British musical theatre company. The Peacock family was also based on the Ward family, four illiterate brothers who lived in a dilapidated house in Syracuse, New York. The Wards garnered plenty of media attention when one brother was accused of killing another in 1990. The accused even signed a confession – which, given his illiteracy, wasn’t proof enough. The charges were eventually dropped.
5. The Field Where I Died (S4, Ep5)
In this episode, Mulder and Scully investigate a Tennessee cult, and its leader, Vernon Ephesian. When Ephesian realises he’s in too deep with the law, he passes out poison to his cult members, so they can commit mass suicide. When federal agents arrive at Ephesian’s compound, they find everyone dead.
The episode was inspired by the Jonestown Massacre, a mass cult suicide from which we get the expression, “drinking the Kool-Aid”. In November 1978, People’s Temple cult leader Jim Jones instructed all members living in the Jonestown, Guyana compound to drink punch poisoned with cyanide and Valium.
As many as 918 people died, 276 of whom were children. – Reuters/The Lineup/Diana Vilibert
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